The Lake County Road and Bridge Advisory Committee has begun reaching out to community groups. Created in August to make recommendations to the Lake County Commission, the concept of the advisory committee has merit and should provide valuable input; however, we would like to see the meetings be more open and transparent.
The advisory committee was created after commissioners decided in a special meeting not to levy a road and bridge tax in fiscal year 2021 to address the problem of deteriorating roads in the county.
The advisory committee meetings are structured in a way that sidesteps the Open Meetings Act, which requires that official meetings of public bodies must be public and notice is to be given of such meetings 24 hours in advance of the meetings.
And while the state has provided some exceptions for task forces, advisory boards, etc., the current advisory committee structure does have specific commissioners assigned to participate, but is limited to those two elected officials from the commission at each meeting. By the numbers, two commissioners do not constitute a quorum so technically it isn't an official meeting. While the design recognizes the letter of the law, it does not embrace the spirit of the law.
We don't have a problem with specific groups targeted for input, we do have a problem with the meetings being limited to those groups while excluding the general public and the media.
Educating community citizens on issues that affect road and bridges across the county is commendable. Denying the general public and the media the ability to attend limits the number of people who can actively participate and benefit from the information provided.
Most elected officials understand the privilege of serving their constituents as well as the responsibility it entails. And part of that responsibility is providing transparency and access to information.
We would ask that the commission embrace these values and open the meetings to the voting public, and journalists who consider covering local government a priority for their readership.
The people want to know.
-- Kim Benedict, publisher